Vegan goes Italian

Eatwith welcomes an Italian chef with a difference.

By BUZZY GORDON
August 25, 2015 10:54
3 minute read.
Eatwith Israel

Nadia of Eatwith.com. (photo credit: PR)

 
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As it continues to grow in popularity, the Israeli startup Eatwith.com is constantly on the lookout for new culinary talent to join its highly skilled corps of home-based chefs. To the delight of diners, the bar is set very high: only four percent of applicants seeking to host under Eatwith auspices are accepted into the ranks of the elite.

The latest to make the cut is a young Italian woman determined to demonstrate that the concepts “gourmet” and “vegan” are not mutually exclusive, not even in the cuisine of her native land, which is known as being heavily reliant on its outstanding cheeses. Recently, I joined a group of 12 guests eager to find out whether chef Nadia was up to the challenge.

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Nadia welcomed us into an elegant Tel Aviv apartment with the quintessential Italian cocktail, a Bellini, Venice’s gift to the world of mixology. It was a pleasure to taste the pulp of freshly pureed peach in the sparkling wine cocktail that is all too often made with artificial peach nectar.

We adjourned to the terrace with its view of the Tel Aviv skyline and started in on the first of several excellent selections of red wine: a Barkan Premier Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec blend. Leading off in the food category was focaccia, served with three olive oil dips, infused with thyme, garlic and balsamic vinegar. This was the most authentic focaccia I have had in Israel. As Nadia explained, in Italy it is made with an entirely different dough from bread. It was very difficult to keep from filling up on the fresh loaves with the crunchy, salty crust.

Our appetizer was a handsomely layered dish reflecting the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag: Sicilian grated tomatoes on a bed of lemonflavored mashed potatoes, with a ribbon of a cream of sautéed broccoli in between. Each one of the delicious components could stand alone. The intense flavor of the baked tomato was mediated by the unusually tangy fluffy potatoes to create a memorable course.

Next was a wine-carrot velouté, accompanied by a little jug of a ginger-flavored cream and a marigold muffin. The rich, cold soup was served in a stylish, widemouthed jar. I couldn’t resist getting every last drop by wiping the inside of the jar clean with pieces of the unusual muffin.

The much-anticipated pasta course was linguine in a beet pesto, with sautéed artichoke and capers. There was a hushed silence as we each gave our full attention to devouring the pasta and artichoke, both perfectly al dente.

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We were unanimous in praising the reddish pesto as a welcome alternative to the usual tomato sauce. The pairing with a Shiraz by Psagot was also commendable.

The main course was steak portobello on polenta with funghi trifolati. The thick portobello mushroom – which had been marinated in wine, oil, vinegar and spices – actually did cut like a steak. I have had creamier polenta and more flavorful portobello, but the pureed portobello stems – which had been sautéed in garlic and parsley, then processed in a blender with a bit of truffle oil – saved the dish, as the polenta soaked up all that amazing flavor.

A fine Merlot from the Galilee’s Dalton Winery rounded out our trio of vini rossi for the evening and led us into an ambitious dessert: nectarine salad in a croccante – a crispy shell, in this case an edible bowl fashioned from Nadia’s sesame candy – and an orange cupcake with a chocolate and white sugar glaze.

Orange and chocolate are, of course, a venerable Israeli combination, and this Italian version worked quite well. The fruit salad was topped with homemade vegan coconut ice cream ingeniously concocted by our hostess. It was good also with the cupcake, which tended just a tad toward the dry side until moistened by the milky yet nondairy cream.

With veganism on the rise in Israel, Nadia and Eatwith are meeting rising demand in this challenging gastronomic niche.

But to paraphrase the famous Levy’s rye bread ad: You don’t have to be vegan to love Nadia’s healthy Italian cooking.

The writer was a guest of Eatwith.

Nadia of Eatwith.com
Kosher – Vegan (not certified)
Tel Aviv
Cost of the meal plus wine: NIS 184

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